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A casual comparison of the Sony A100 DSLR and the Sony NEX-5 cameras. The Nex used the 18-55mm kit lens, while the A100 used the Tamron 17-50mm/f2.8 lens.
With dimming evening light, after a rain shower, light was fairly poor. I took a few photos with each camera, picking the best of each group. I did not use a tripod, as I want to test the stabilization since I often have to rely upon it. I used Aperture Priority mode and tried a couple of different ISO settings in the Nex-5. A 100% crop is pasted in the corner of each photo below.
OK, I failed to get identical framing, but it is what it is.
A100 points: 2
Nex-5 points: 3
Once again, I find myself out on an overcast day. This time, I set the Nex-5 to "cloudy".
Verdict? I'd call this a draw. The end results are better with Nex, but the A100 was quick and easy to focus and get acceptable results.
OK, this time I found better light. The bees were out, so beyond the normal comparison, I tried the additional task of capturing bees. It's hard to do (and freeze motion, getting them in focus, etc.).
Both cameras used Auto White Balance. Both cameras had trouble getting the exact shade, but the actual flower is more lavender than pink, so the Nex-5 is more accurate with the color, on average. (Setting to shade for flowers that were in shade seemed to actually throw it off.) The detail comparison is a bit unfair because I didn't get as close with the A100. Maybe it's easier to stick my hand near the bee than my face? Focus was easier with the A100 which had a limited number of AF points. With the Nex, it tended to focus on the nearest area, such as the tips of the petals -- spot focus would work better here. Sun reflecting on the LCD made things a bit more difficult; composing is OK, but to review sharpness, I needed to find a shady spot to see detail. Brightness is a bit high on the Nex, in most of the photos -- this seems to be a common complaint!
The winner? I think the Nex is pulling ahead again. Both cameras produce good results, and you can find good and negative points for both. But I think I'm finding that the Nex-5 can be used as a replacement for (at least an older ) DSLR for most use. It may take a bit more effort to squeeze the best out of it, though. Either use RAW, or be prepared to adjust the WB, EV (brightness), etc. From RAW, highlights that look blown in the JPEG copy may be nearly or completely salvageable. In the end, the lower noise level and higher resolution offer better end-results, and I'd still probably need to tweak the DSLR results. A newer DSLR, such as an A550 might be a better choice, however, if performance is required with no compromises.
Will there be a Round 4?
There are two areas where I'd expect the A100 to have a bit of an advantage -- where I need over 200mm of reach, and fast action.
In general, focusing time is similar in some cases, but generally faster for the A100. If the Nex has pre-focused at near the desired distance before pressing the shutter button, then the focus time is often identical to the A100. However, if it has to hunt, it hunts more. Of course, using the f2.8 Tamron on the A100 is a big advantage as well as the phase detect focusing. But even the A100 struggles in low-light at times, to the extent where I have enabled the "release-priority" option, to force the shutter when the button is pressed, regardless of whether or not the camera thinks it's locked focus.